Course Title: Symposium 2 - Decolonizing Neuropsychology (Cagigas/Suarez)

Credit Hours: 0

Instructor(s) Xavier Cagigas; Paola Suarez, Mirella Díaz-Santos, Jean Ikanga, Lily Kamalyan, Janet J. Yáñez

Co-Chair: Xavier E. Cagigas, PhD
Associate Director of the Hispanic Neuropsychiatric Center of Excellence (HNCE)
Co-Director of the Cultural Neuropsychology Program (CNP)
Health Sciences Assistant Clinical Professor
Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences
UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior
Co-Chair: Paola Suarez, PhD
Co-Director of the Cultural Neuropsychology Program (CNP)
Clinical Assistant Professor
Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences
UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior

Invited Symposium 2:

Decolonizing Neuropsychology


This invited symposium brings together diverse perspectives to highlight the emergence of a neuropsychology that stems from the experiences of underrepresented and underserved communities. By centering voices that have historically gone unheard, this symposium revisits the modern practice and social construction of neuropsychology through the lens of social justice to reveal the importance of various different aspects of the sociocultural world and their import for how we can more inclusively understand brain and behavior relationships. By way of introduction, the case of an 83-year-old, Spanish-speaking, Latina woman without formal education who acquired self-literacy is presented as a microcosm for the myriad of factors that coalesce in clinical decision-making involving a person who is not represented in either the empirical literature or even clinical acumen that currently makes up mainstream neuropsychological science. As an empirical response, the first panelist centers the sociocultural through the data-driven examination of educational practices, early socioeconomic environments, and other cultural factors surrounding language use by highlighting the relative importance of heretofore unexamined quantifiable variables in the measurement of neurocognitive abilities. Rather than simply adopting or adapting the existing White neuropsychological paradigm, the second panelist poses the question of whether, and how, a more meaningful neuropsychology can be built by focusing on the actual cultural experiences of the people on the African continent who were not included in the first iteration of neuropsychology. The third panelist expands the unit of analysis by relating how her own community was impacted by a neurotoxin, and highlights the need for a neuropsychology that matters by leveraging neuropsychological knowledge to advocate for policy change. The fourth panelist proposes a research model that aims to repair the broken trust of underserved communities, which currently bear the brunt of an imposed universalist science that leads to cultural erasure, by walking alongside the underserved to build trust and thereby increase scientific generalizability through scholarly integrity and accountability. Finally, the example of a training program centered in cultural neuropsychology, which in the process of its formation gave way to socially responsible neuropsychology, provides a proof of concept for how clinical services, training, and research questions can shift when historically underrepresented professionals and trainees come together with a more collectivist orientation to more closely align with the underserved communities from which they came. In their own way, each of these panelists moves toward decolonizing neuropsychology, and stems from having been born within communities that neuropsychology had left behind both as underrepresented (neuropsychologists and trainees) and underserved (patients and research participants). In the process of shedding light on this reality, a path forward is laid bare toward what potentially could be a more inclusive and generalizable neuropsychology that can hopefully yield a more complete and meaningful understanding of human brain and behavior relationships.

Co-Chair's Biographies:

Dr. Xavier E. Cagigas is the Associate Director of the Hispanic Neuropsychiatric Center of Excellence (HNCE), Co-Director of the Cultural Neuropsychology Program (CNP), Health Sciences Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, and a past president of the Hispanic Neuropsychological Society (HNS). He pursued his PhD at the SDSU/UCSD Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology before moving to UCLA where he completed clinical internship in Neuropsychology and Exceptional Abilities, a postdoctoral research fellowship in Neurobehavioral Genetics, and eventually received a faculty appointment within the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA when he co-founded the UCLA Cultural Neuropsychology Initiative (CNI).
The CNP consists of three components: a clinical service providing bilingual and bicultural neuropsychological and psychodiagnostic assessments for a variety of neurological and psychiatric patients and their families within the Los Angeles Latina/o Community; a training program designed to produce the next generation of culturally and linguistically competent clinical neuropsychologists; and an emerging research program seeking to engage historically underrepresented populations within a culturally inclusive neurocognitive research model. Current research interests focus on the interface of bilingualism and neurocognition, as well as, the emerging field of cultural neuropsychology.

Dr. Paola Suarez is a bilingual/bicultural neuropsychologist who is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. She has been the Co-Director of the Cultural Neuropsychology Program within Hispanic Neuropsychiatric Center of Excellence for the past 2 years and previously served as the Associate Director of the Cultural Neuropsychology Initiative. Dr. Suarez completed both her internship and fellowship at UCLA where she focused her training in Cultural Neuropsychology serving the Latino population of the Greater Los Angeles Area. Dr. Suarez’s area of interest lies in the intersection of research and clinical work with bilingual patients. She completed her dissertation on this topic at SDSU/UCSD’s Joint Doctoral Program where she worked with Dr. Mariana Cherner at the HIV Neurobehavioral Research Program. She has served as the Chair of the Culture and Diversity Committee of the National Academy of Neuropsychology for the past 3-years.

Mirella Díaz-Santos, PhD
Dr. Mirella Díaz-Santos is Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine, Director of Research of the Hispanic Neuropsychiatric Center of Excellence (HNCE) at Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, and Research Psychologist at the Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research. She is a neuropsychologist with an expertise in Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias working primarily with the Latino/a older adult English-Spanish bilingual community and their families.
Dr. Díaz-Santos completed her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus, before moving to the States and receiving her doctorate degree in clinical psychology-neuropsychology from Boston University. She completed two post-doctoral fellowships at UCLA: a clinical neuropsychology fellowship and, a cognitive neuroscience research fellowship. Dr. Díaz-Santos is currently the chair of the mentoring and education committee from the Hispanic Neuropsychological Society (HNS), and an active member of NAN’s Culture and Diversity Committee, as well as UCLA’s Psychiatry Diversity Advisory Committee.
Jean Ikanga, PhD
Dr. Jean Ikanga was born and raised in Africa where he obtained his Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and his Master’s degree in Theology in Kenya. Ordained as a Roman Catholic Priest in 2003, Dr. Ikanga moved to the United States in 2006 and obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Neuroscience at Regis University, and both Masters and Doctoral degrees in Clinical Psychology at the University of Detroit. In August 2017, Dr. Ikanga completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Clinical Neuropsychology in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at Emory University School of Medicine. He currently holds an appointment as an assistant professor at the University of Kinshasa, School of Medicine and staff scientist at Emory. Dr. Ikanga and his clinical mentor, Dr. Anthony Stringer, have created and validated the first African neuropsychology battery in the DRC. He is utilizing his battery in the Congo to gather cognitive markers, and to gather first biomarkers of AD through blood samples and MRI scans as well.
Lily Kamalyan
Lily Kamalyan is a 3rd year graduate student at the SDSU/UC San Diego Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology, working with Drs. Maria Marquine and Igor Grant. She is interested in cross-cultural neuropsychology and social determinants underlying racial/ethnic health and cognitive disparities in aging and HIV. As part of her graduate training so far, she has worked on projects focused on developing normative neuropsychological data for native Spanish-speakers, understanding how GPS, ecological momentary assessment, neighborhood disadvantage and various physiological risk factors may impact cognitive and mood outcomes among older adults living with and without HIV. As an Armenian immigrant, she hopes to gain the knowledge and skills that she may translate to aging Middle Eastern and North African individuals who are often overlooked in neuropsychological research and clinical work.
Janet J. Yáñez MA, LMFT
Janet J. Yáñez is a doctoral candidate at Alliant International University, Los Angeles. Ms. Yañez is an intern at Jackson Memorial Hospital/in affiliation with the University of Miami (UM). She previously served as a student representative for the California Psychological Association division of Neuropsychology and Health Psychology. Currently, she serves as a member of the Social Justice and Advocacy Committee (SJAC) through the Hispanic Neuropsychological Society (HNS). As a recipient of the APA Minority Fellowship Program, she is focused on promoting health equity and mental health policy, while developing research to explore the effects of Latinx dementia caregiving.